New kids on the block: The hottest restaurants for spring

Words by
Sphere Life

8th May 2017

From Som Saa and Smokestak to Aquavit, we’ve compiled a selection of London’s most exciting new gastronomic hotspots to get your mouth watering

Smokestak

Smokestak

It’s part Berlin nightclub, part mid-West saloon,but it’s all carnivorous hardware that greets diners at Smokestak in Shoreditch as its giant wood smoker slowly turns in full view of diners. This is a get-there-early joint; since it began as a pop-up by David Carter, people have happily queued for its falling-off-the-bone pork ribs and brisket. 

The cocktails are spot on, too — the plum sour is creamy and bourbon rich, a perfect companion to the  pig tails and baby artichokes. As the techno kicks in, the main courses turn up. The beef brisket with barbecue is filling enough for a weatherworn lumberjack, deeply smoked with some depth to it. Grilled lettuce — the food trend du jour — is also on the menu, with walnut gremolata and crispy bacon. Save room for the salted caramel ice cream and hazelnut praline. 

Aquavit

Aquavit

Situated in the shiny new St James’s Market in St James’s, Aquavit has become a firm favourite on London’s gastronomic map. The glorious cathedral-like room is designed by Martin Brudnizki, with artworks by Olafur Eliasson and cutlery by Georg Jensen. Green and pink leather seats add warmth to what could be an overly corporate space. The staff are faultless and the food is exceptional — the rye brioche with the crab salad is worth jumping on a plane for and the lamb is tender, flavourful and made pretty with lingonberries and cabbage. The upstairs private dining room is gloriously bedecked in Josef Frank fabric, and there are good reports about the weekend brunch.

Jikoni

Jikoni

With its block-printed tablecloths from Jaipur and stacked cushions, Jikoni in Marylebone is the place to settle in on a chilly night and try the spirit-lifting food. Pondicherry prawn puffs and venison Scotch eggs are tasty, although not overly spiced, but the mutton keema packs a punch, accompanied by a chilli and marmalade Martini. Feast on such comfort dishes as a delicately piquant saffron fish pie and gooey banana cake with Ovaltine kulfi to finish.

The Square

The Square

Since chef Phil Howard left The Square in St James’s, it has made a promising start with Yu Sugimoto, previously of Le Meurice in Paris and L’Espérance in Saint-Père. His refined dishes include sugar-spiced foie gras with Medjool dates, pumpkin and Earl Grey tea, and raw Orkney scallop with beets, 20-year-old Xerez vinegar and coriander.

Jamavar

Jamavar

While Jamavar is grand in style, the food is far from fussy. They have lured Rohit Ghai, the esteemed chef from Gymkhana and Benares, whose deft hand continues to thrill. The tandoori chicken with sweet basil and pickled radish alone is exquisitely spiced, as are the prawns with turmeric and curry leaves. For main courses, the Jamavar slow-cooked dal must be half butter, half lentils and it’s sublime; this is a rich accompaniment to the eight hour, slow-cooked Hampshire lamb shank with Rajasthani chilli. The mango chutney is also addictive — it’s easy to get through two pots before the starters have arrived.

Som Saa

Som Saa

If food is the new rock ’n’ roll, then restaurants are the new nightclubs. Setting the trend for late-night openings is Som Saa, the Thai restaurant that went from pop-up to permanent in Spitalfields after a crowd-funding campaign managed to raise £700,000.

It originally served Thai street food from Northern Thailand, but it now  can offer a wider range of regional dishes. Try the Som Tum Kai Kem, a spicy green papaya salad bolstered with salted duck egg, and the side option of Mu Waan, a candied sweet pork cooked in palm sugar, fish sauce and spices. As well as dining, you can enjoy a DJ until 1.30am along with Singha beers and fragrant, punchy cocktails.

Temper

Temper

Continuing in the same caveman vein as Smokestak is Temper, which comes from chef Neil Rankin. Don’t even think of entering the Soho premises unless you like macho, gutsy meat, and all the fat that comes with it. 

Soy cured beef or pil pil prawns arrive in a taco — the ingredient du jour. Little bowls of crushed-up peanuts and crackling add some crumble to the tacos and for a nod towards being virtuous, wilted greens come spiced. There is grilled baby gem and, for vegetarians, burrata, lime and jalapeno. 

Otherwise it is Neanderthal fare at its most filling: Dorset goat is chopped, smoked and grilled and the mutton and pork merguez sausage packs a suitable punch. Sauces are top notch, such as blackened pepper salsa and chipotle sour cream. Save room for a wicked butterscotch kouign amann.